Weekly Write: ” Somnambulist” by Charles Duffie


The pills knock you out, so you’re asleep when I make the rounds. That’s good. Easier. You hate that I still do this. I got into the habit when you were pregnant. It was prayer back then, pausing in each room, murmuring, “Thank you” and meaning it. Every night. Sixteen years.

So, I make the rounds, even now. Stand in the kitchen, where he picked up your love of cooking. The living room, where every Wednesday was Family Game Night, even when he got busy in high school. Our bedroom, where you fell asleep so easily, curled in contentment. The little sunroom where I pretended I was a novelist and he pretended he was a songwriter. His bedroom, where he evolved like the history of man, from neanderthal toddler to cro-magnon tween to a sometimes surly, often fine homo sapiens.

So every night I make the rounds, pause at each station, but without “Thank you” now, those clasped words slammed apart as easily as the Honda slammed through the guard rail, our boy asleep at the wheel. He just fell asleep. That’s all. Why is that the one detail I can’t accept?

The first few weeks, it hurt you, that I kept making the rounds. Your husband became a somnambulist and all you could do was sleep. I envy your hibernation. You’ll survive this long winter and wake in some unseeable spring. Meanwhile I go through the motions. I feel unmoored even from my grief. I kneel in the surf of the shag carpet; I’ve been in a shipwreck, a castaway washed ashore in my own home.

That annoying grandfather clock he loved chimes downstairs. As if summoned, I shuffle into the kitchen. This routine I do for you, while you sleep. I make the rounds for me, I make dinner for you. This was your sacred space with him. God, he was a chubby kid. That’s why you learned to cook. No more fast food, you said. All the diets the two of you started and quit.

I flip The No Meat Athlete Cookbook to the next recipe. I hated all his plant-based lectures. But I have to admit, he lost weight, got trim and fast. Watching him glide downcourt, stretch his body, pluck the ball from the air and finger-float it through the rim — he was more beautiful than anything in nature. A gazelle leaping is a graceful machine, but a boy doing that? That’s conscious grace. That has to be proof of something.

Tonight I’m making Loaded Spaghetti Squash, Garlicky Rosemary Potato Soup, Kale Salad with You-Won’t-Believe-It’s-Cashews Ranch Dressing, and No-Bake Mocha Cheesecake. The silvery sounds of new pans, ceramic plates, glass bowls, steel measuring cups — his birthday present from you, a complete set. Crisp cuts through squash, potatoes, kale stems; easy motions, pouring, whisking, scooping; distinct smells, garlic, rosemary, basil, bay leaves; stirring slow like cranking a gurney or prayer wheel. I lose myself in these mundane things until the flavors sweeten the air and pull me back.

It’s a feast. Center all the bowls on the white table, each filled with color: bright orange pasta, golden soup, blue-green salad, small black cheesecake with blanched almonds serrating the edges. Sometimes I notice there’s no silverware, sometimes I don’t.

It’s almost 3 AM. We haven’t sat together, husband and wife, at this table since the crash. But I end up here every night. Maybe I’m waiting for the day I’ll feel hungry again. I don’t know. It’s only been six weeks. Give it time, people say. I’ve lost thirty pounds. How do fathers do it? This is an old story, losing a son. How have all the fathers before me carried on? Why can’t I wake up?

My foot bumps something. His basketball rolls out from under the table, across the hardwood, taps against the front door. Yesterday when you went shopping, I played in the driveway, then hid the ball when you came home. I forgot to move it back to his room. You don’t like me doing anything we used to do with him. His death grated across us, leaving all these holes in our life. Everything is falling through.

It’s cold outside. Look at that moon. Almost full, almost there. I shoot a few hoops, the ball bouncing, hitting the rim, so loud in the silence I stop, waiting for someone to shout out their window. But if anyone’s awake, they keep it to themselves.

I should go back in, but the park is just down the block. I can’t see it, so I walk to the street lamp on the corner. From here, the jungle gym looks like a pile of empty cages; the trees are as still as a diorama. And all that night behind it. Somewhere out there is the basketball court where we played until, one day, he magically was better than me.

“What?” I say to the half park.

It’s so quiet, I hear water in the sewer flowing under my feet. Somewhere behind me, the freeway sounds like a river too. I feel like I’m being swept away.

“What?” I call. “What?!”

I throw the ball like I’m trying to hit something. It loops high into the dark, gone. A moment later I hear it bounce on the court, again, again, then gone.

It takes a long time, until the sky softens, but I turn around. There’s nothing to do but follow the curve of the earth back home, choke the food down the disposal, and clean the kitchen before you wake up.


Charles Duffie is a writer and designer from California. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Role Reboot, and will be featured in the 2019 American Story Anthology published by New Rivers Press.



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